Just when I thought I saw all the movies I had to see for this year’s Oscar season, I learned The Great Beauty is around for a limited time. Now it wasn’t a serious Best Picture contender but it is a favorite to win the Best Foreign Language Picture category.
The film begins with Jep Gambardella having his 65th birthday party. Jep started his fame by writing a novel only to turn to writing cultural columns and becoming a top socialite in Rome since. He has been a popular fixture in all of Rome with holding the most expensive and most debaucherous parties on his apartment overlooking the Coliseum. The birthday party he has is well-attended and well-celebrated however Jep feels a sense of unfulfillment. The sense of unfulfillment continues after he meets face-to-face with a performance artist he’s about to pan, only for her to tell him off. It continues even further when he meets up with the man who married his first love from back in the early-70’s. He reveals to Jep she just died and she always loved him.
It’s then Jep decides to take a break from the party scene and retreat into a trip of knowledge. He takes in aspects of life in the many places he goes to: weddings, funerals, magic shows, visiting relics of Ancient Rome and the Renaissance, and even viewing the wreck of the Costa Concordia. He discovers from others about their passions and why it matters to them, even if they don’t become rich and famous from it. He visits artworks and learns from them and their lives. He meets with one friend who does a disappearing act with a giraffe. He witnesses the daughter of a rich friend of his paint out her frustration and anger with an abstract painting on a huge canvas. He meets a man whose father took a picture of him every day of his life and has the pictures plastered around a Roman palace. He even meets a 104 year-old nun who has cared for the sick throughout her life and still holds the same amount of faith.
However life does take some changes along the way. He does come into conflict with some of his rich friends when he questions their lives. He gets involved with friction with his mentally-ill son to the point his son commits suicide. His artistic friend decides to leave Rome after 40 years because the inspiration is no longer there. He never learns about why his first love left him as her husband threw away her memoirs.
The film is a very deep film as it reflects on a man who ‘made it’ and cashed out into the world of socializing and column-writing. It focuses on his reflecting on what could’ve been for him. The constant question from others on why he hasn’t written his second book adds to that lingering feel. The memories of him with his first love adds to the wonder of what could have been. Often when he sees the passions of others–whether it be a rich girl painting out her anger, a friend doing a magic trick, or even an elderly nun making every effort to live out her faith– he gets a sense of why people live out their passions. It’s a common theme in which many people feel once they look back on their lives often with regret and that lingering question of ‘what if.’
Paolo Sorrentino did an excellent job of directing and co-writing this original script with Umberto Contarello. I’m not too familiar with Sorrentino’s works but I know that he has a good resume for a young director. Three of his films have been entered into the Cannes Film Festival and two have been nominated for the Palme d’Or including this one, which lost to Blue Is The Warmest Color. He has even done an English-language film with Sean Penn entitled This Must Be The Place. His next productions as Rio, I Love You which is a continuation of the I Love You series of movies and In The Future which is slated to star Michael Caine.
Toni Servillo did an excellent job playing Jep in all of his dimensions. You could really sense the feelings inside of Jep that Tony embodied excellently. The supporting acting was also excellent, especially from Carlo Verdone as Romano and Sabrina Ferilli as Ramona. There were also great performances of significance and scene stealing from Giovanna Vignola as the secretary with Dwarfism and Giusi Merli as the elderly nun still full of spiritual passion. There were other great qualities to the film including excellent cinematography featuring the best of Rome and all of Italy. Another addition to the film was the mix of music from modern to classical. The classical pieces really stood out as they presented many scenes best and added to the theme of the film.
I have to say The Great Beauty adds to the greatness of Italian film that has been prevalent in past years. I know how Italian film really came to the attention with directors like Federico Fellini, Vittorio De Sica and Roberto Rossellini coming to exposure many decades ago. Italian film seemed to be continuing towards greatness and influence in recent classic films like Cinema Paradiso, Il Postino and Life Is Beautiful. However it took a bit of a back seat in the past ten years as there hasn’t been a film or director in that time that dazzled the world by storm. Paolo Sorrentino and The Great Beauty looks to change that. Many critics have said it resembles many great Italian films of the past. It has won many awards in film festivals and even beat out Blue Is The Warmest Color for wins at the European Film Awards and the Golden Globes. It looks to be a heavy favorite for the Oscar as there doesn’t seem to be any other film to challenge. Even if there was, it would still rank as one of the top films of the year.
The Great Beauty is an excellent cinematic reflection of an aging socialite. Its deep story set against thematic scenes and beautiful cinematography makes it one worth seeing.
Watch your thoughts for they become words. Watch your words for they become actions. Watch your actions for they become… habits. Watch your habits, for they become your character. And watch your character, for it becomes your destiny! What we think we become.
Remember Margaret Thatcher? I remember her well. She was the Prime Minister of Great Britain in the 80’s. For those who remember the 80’s, who could forget her? The Iron Lady is the movie where Meryl Streep brings Margaret to life. The big question is how good does Streep do it?
The movie opens in the present as Margaret in her 80’s goes out to buy milk and has breakfast with her husband. Problem is when her keepers see her, she’s the only one there. Margaret now has dementia and has people to look after her. She can’t tell the difference between her illusions and her reality. Even her daughter, who she has a strained relationship with, tells her that her son is in South Africa, she’s not the Prime Minister and her husband’s dead.
Margaret tries to adjust to her reality. She knows she has to accept the fact of her husband’s death. It has its difficulties. As she’s autographing books, she signs one Margaret Roberts. This flashes back to the days she’s the grocer’s daughter, working at her father’s grocery store while the town’s girls were having fun. Her father gave political speeches and encouraged Margaret to develop a strong will for herself. Further flashbacks move to when she falls in love with successful businessman Denis Thatcher and when she runs for her first election in 1950. She loses but Denis strongly believes in her.
In 1959 Margaret Thatcher, now married and a mother, is finally elected an MP in parliament. She has the difficulty of being the only female MP in parliament as she is known as the ‘lady of the house’. Nevertheless she does find support in a man, Airey Neive. He’s able to coach out her voice and her image. He even believes she could be the Prime Minister. Margaret doubts it and believes there will never be a woman Prime Minister as long as she’s alive. His death in a car bomb implanted by the IRA changed that. She became leader of the Conservative Party and won the national election in 1979. She didn’t just live to see Britain’s first woman Prime Minister. She achieved it.
Becoming Prime Minister in 1979 was not an easy thing. She had to deal with Britain’s rising unemployment, the Brixton riots, lengthy labor strikes like the seven month-long coal miners strike of 1984, and even an IRA bomb explosion during the 1984 Conservative Party Conference where she and her husband were almost killed. She also faced her biggest challenge when she declared war to reclaim the Falkland Islands. She was determined to win it back and she succeeded. Things improved for Thatcher as Britain had a better economy, she developed a friendship with Ronald Reagan and she emerged as a leading world figure.
By 1990, her reputation as the Iron Lady was starting to wear thin. She went from being seen as an active World leader to being more of a political tyrant who verbally assaults her own colleagues. Geoffrey Howe resigned after being humiliated by her in a Cabinet meeting. Michael Heseltine challenges her for the leadership of the Conservative Party and Cabinet forces her to resign as Prime Minister. She still carries the bitterness twenty years later.
Eventually Margaret does learn to let go as she packs up Denis’ belongings and tells him it’s time to go. Denis does leave and we see her washing a teacup, something she promised Denis she would never do.
The weakness of this movie is that it looks like it can’t make up its mind whether it’s a biographical drama or a fictional story amongst historical figures. No question there are a lot of times when it showcases the struggles, triumphs and defeats of Margaret Thatcher but it often feels like the story is more about her ordeal with dementia instead of the legacy she created. Many times it doesn’t make much sense as I came hoping for a biographical story of Margaret but instead felt like I was watching a movie about Margaret dealing with the loss of her husband. Even now I’m still confused what the main point of the movie was.
There is no doubt the movie did an excellent job in bringing back the legacy of one of the most legendary political heads of state of modern times. History should continue to remember Margaret Thatcher and the younger generations should be familiar with her. Margaret Thatcher sent a strong message of what a female head of state can do. She showed a woman head of state is as capable of being a world leader as a male head of state can be. She proved a woman head of state can have a long powerful term. She proved a woman head of state can transform a country. She also proved that a woman head of state is just as capable of declaring a war as a male head of state. There have been female heads of state before but never before was there a female head of state of a major country. Today the biggest country with a female head of state is Germany with Chancellor Angela Merkel. American media have strongly hinted there may be a president Sarah Palin in the future. Who knows?
Without a doubt, Meryl Streep delivers another winning acting performance. She never disappoints and always delivers. However this is a milestone for her and ranks amongst one of the best performances she’s ever done. Jim Broadbent was also excellent as her husband. The script however was the difficult part as I stated earlier as it doesn’t make it clear what this movie is exactly supposed to be. In all honestly, it’s another average film where Meryl’s acting saves the day. Director Phylidda Lloyd and scriptwriter Abi Morgan appear like they need more experience in their fields. They both know how to do well in their trade on the theatre but not necessarily too well on film. Even Phylidda’s own Mamma Mia from years ago doesn’t do her justice on film.
If there was one positive point of the script, it’s that it was able to capture Thatcher’s drive and beliefs. Lines like: “(Politics) used to be about trying to do something. Now it’s about trying to be someone.” or even how she talked of the Americans and their drive showed how she was one who wanted to achieve things for reasons beyond her own personal interest. The biggest strength of the script is that the essence of Margaret’s political muscle was very present.
The reception of the film has been mixed. I talked about how the film brought back the legacy of Margaret Thatcher. Some may agree with me while some may feel the movie hails her more than it should vilify her. We often forget that there are many people who were unhappy with her way of politics back during her administration and still harbor negative attitudes to her to this day. Even Margaret’s children, Mark and Carol, have said about the movie “It sounds like some left-wing fantasy.” Films about politicians are always going to start lots of talk.
The Iron Lady isn’t exactly as strong portrayal of Margaret Thatcher the Prime Minister. It took Streep’s performance as Margaret to save the film from being a major disappointment. No doubt Streep will win the Oscar this year.